Online shopping today is evolving beyond the basics of browsing a website and the ease of one-step checkout. In the pandemic era, e-commerce is becoming increasingly virtual.
As brands look to find more meaningful ways to connect with at-home shoppers, and consumers seek out a more personalized experience when shopping online, brands like Ralph Lauren, General Mills, Charlotte Tilbury, American Girl, and Mondelez’s Lacta, are expanding their store footprint – digitally.
While some brands were testing out virtual shopping experiences before the pandemic—Tommy Hilgifer created a virtual pool party in 2019 to showcase its summer collection—virtual stores became a way to safely recreate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience amid Covid lockdowns. And during the 2021 holiday seasons virtual stores became the first step into the metaverse for many brands.
Virtual stores represent the future of how marketing and e-commerce will interact, and provide a more entertaining and interactive way for brands to showcase products in the digital world. All of this is helping brands figure out the metaverse, a collection of interoperable virtual worlds that are seen as the next phase of the internet.
Virtual stores can be an easy entry point for consumers who are not familiar with the metaverse, but are familiar with a brand. They are also a way to connect with younger consumers who are used to virtual technology.
This comes as tech giants like Facebook bet their future on the metaverse, and platforms like Snap emphasize augmented and virtual reality capabilities to help brands get virtual stores up and running.
Traditional e-commerce sites are typically 2D interfaces with grids of product photos that shoppers have to sort through. Virtual stores, on the other hand, are immersive, three-dimensional experiences that can be navigated. They are not necessarily exact replicas of traditional stores, but can combine the physical store experience with the ease of e-commerce.
“The virtual store environment can be a photo-realistic version of a physical store or a more creative and fantastical environment that’s rendered graphically,” said Neha Singh, founder and CEO of Obsess, which helped create virtual stores for brands like American Girl and Charlotte Tilbury. “Shoppers can explore the virtual environment in the same way they would explore an environment in an online video game, navigating through sections of the store and clicking on products and collections to engage with them.”